Can the Police Search My House Without a Warrant?

With the bountiful amount of legal dramas available on television, most people are aware that the police need a warrant to search their home. These dramas, however, certainly do not tell us all we need to know about search warrants, which are not necessarily as straightforward as people may think.

What is a Search Warrant?

If a judge believes that there is probably cause of criminal activity at the place in question, he or she can issue a search warrant, allowing law enforcement to search that location at a specified time. The wording of a warrant can make all the difference. For example, if police were given permission to search a home, that does not mean they can also search your car that is parked outside. The person whose space is being searched may also read the search warrant, or as that the officer read it aloud.

In What Circumstances is a Search Warrant Not Required?

  • Consent: If the person who is in control of or owns the property gives consent to the search without coercion, trickery, or force, a search without a warrant is considered valid and legal. Law enforcement does not have to inform anyone of their right to refuse a search. Instead, it is that person’s responsibility to refuse consent to a search. If a space is shared, as is the case with roommates, one person can consent to common areas of the home being searched without the permission of the other. However, in cases where the other person is a spouse, that spouse cannot consent to a search on behalf of the other spouse.
  • Plain View: If contraband or evidence is already plainly visible to an officer, that object can lawfully be seized and used as evidence without permission or a warrant. For example, if someone is pulled over, and marijuana is in plain sight, it can be confiscated and used against the driver.
  • Search Incident to Arrest: If an individual is being arrested in his or her home, police officers can legally search for accomplices or weapons in the interest of their own safety as well as others. They may also perform a search to prevent the destruction of evidence.
  • Exigent Circumstances: Another exception refers to emergency situations, wherein the process of getting a valid search warrant might compromise public safety or result in the loss of evidence. Exigent circumstances also include “hot pursuits,” when a suspect is about to escape.

Executing a Search Warrant

If law enforcement has a search warrant, they must still obey certain rules when executing it. This includes:

  • Identifying themselves
  • Compliance with the period of time officers have to conduct the search
  • Compliance with the time of day the officers may conduct the search

If, for example, a search warrant states that officers must execute a search warrant within 14 days, and attempt to execute it on the 15th day, it is an invalid search. The search must also be limited to the area described in the warrant. Search warrants are not equivalent to a carte blanche to all areas of an individual’s place or property.

Raleigh Criminal Defense Lawyers

At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, it is our top priority to advocate for your rights. If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you will need experienced and skilled representation to protect your rights and ensure the best possible outcome. We have the in-depth knowledge you need to face your charges head on. Do not leave your freedom up to chance.

Call us today at (919) 845-6688 to discuss your case with one of our Raleigh defense attorneys.